Dr Elaine Saunders FTSE is an entrepreneur, businesswoman, author, inventor, a supporter of women in STEM, an advocate for Australian innovation and a trusted adviser on a range of advisory panels to government, industry and academia.
Her career has revolved around the mission of alleviating the challenges of hearing loss. It all began during her gap year when she had the opportunity to work in a school for deaf children. It was there she realised the main issue for these children was the insufficient performance of their hearing aids, preventing them from accessing speech and oral language effectively.
Elaine went on to pursue her undergraduate studies in science, focusing on quantum chemistry. Her passion for addressing hearing impairments led her to further studies in audiology, biomedical engineering and eventually business. Throughout her career she has worked across all areas of hearing health to address challenges faced by hearing impaired people through research and clinical work. She has lead teams to solve these challenges, from engineering excellence to business innovation. She has also worked extensively with the international Rotary Action Group on Hearing to provide advice so that Rotary Clubs around the world could plan projects to reduce the burden of hearing loss, particularly in low to middle income countries.
The invention of the cochlear implant marked a significant breakthrough for deaf children. Elaine was closely involved with cochlear implant through the Hearing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC). Subsequently, she established her first spin out company, which applied cochlear implant engineering and technology into hearing aids – Dynamic Hearing – which in turn supplied signal processing solutions to hearing aid and headset companies around the globe.
Dynamic Hearing took advantage of the industry shift from utilising Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) architecture to using Digital Signal Processing (DSP) on low power silicon. Recognising that companies desired more flexibility than a standard turnkey solution, Elaine’s team developed a modular design in their own operating framework. This allowed customers to mix and match algorithms and even include some of their own. The revenue returns on licensing signal processing were found to be low in comparison to the wholesale product value. Consequently, Elaine, and her business partner Peter Blamey, embarked on a successful venture to build Blamey Saunders Hears, an Australian hearing aid company. They designed, engineered and manufactured innovative, award winning, self-fit hearing aids and sold them directly to the general public, providing teleaudiology support if needed (before COVID made telehealth common).
The business model of Blamey Saunders Hears was highly technically driven, and customers experienced a cheaper, more convenient and empowering path to getting hearing aids. The model was successful, and the company was acquired by a global hearing aid company in 2019.
The Blamey Saunders hearing aid was uniquely engineered for easy battery replacement. It also had a unique and attractive form factor, which was achieved by embedding designer Leah Heiss in the company. This collaboration removed barriers to hearing aid use, including stigma and difficulty handling due to their small size.
Today, Elaine is on a number of boards in the hearing and technology sector. She mentors aspiring scientists, engineers, and emerging leaders as well as running a consulting company to assist other companies to scale their operations. She remains highly active with the Rotary International Action Group on hearing. She is a strong believer in bringing inventions to market to maximise their impact, and is influenced by the concepts of Blue Ocean Strategy which encourage targeting the previously uncontested market in your business.